Billick upfront on QB choice

August 25, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

There is no quarterback controversy, not after two preseason games, not when Scott Mitchell is becoming increasingly efficient, not when Tony Banks is facing only second- and third-team defenses.

There is no quarterback controversy, and Brian Billick said that there will never be one, not as long as he is Ravens coach, no matter how much fans and media protest.

"I have final say," Billick proclaimed after yesterday morning's practice at Western Maryland College. "There is no controversy unless I become schizophrenic."

Could happen, if multiple offenses lead to multiple personalities.

Coach Brian, meet Coach Sybil!

Mitchell, lest we forget, was benched for rookie Charlie Batch after only two games last season in Detroit. But Billick said that such a debate, if it indeed transpires, would take place without him.

Here's his take on a quarterback controversy:

"It doesn't exist, ever," Billick said. "If the fans or the media choose to make it a controversy for sheer entertainment's sake, that's great. The age-old, `No. 2 is better than No. 1,' that's as old as football. Let's argue, sit down, have a beer and that's lots of fun.

"I'm telling you, as the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, there is never, will never be, a quarterback controversy. There will be a starter. He will remain the starter until someone else proves better. Then that guy will come in and there will be no controversy about it.

"If I change quarterbacks every week, there won't be a controversy. It will be a calculated, analytical approach on my part as to why I'm doing it. But there won't be a controversy a debate within the coaching staff, it doesn't happen."

Spoken like a coach secure with his six-year contract -- a coach so confident in his ability, he believes he's smarter than everyone else, and ready to take on all challengers.

Davey Johnson displayed the same edge, as do all great field generals. The difference with Billick is that he's displaying it in his first training camp, before ever coaching a down in the NFL.

In March, he asked fans to consider his track record with quarterbacks and take a "leap of faith" with Mitchell. But that faith already is being tested -- Mitchell has fumbled four times in three quarters, and only one of those resulted from contact.

The Ravens recovered each fumble, but cynical fans who recall Mitchell's struggles in Detroit already are in a panic, fearing the second coming of Vinny Testaverde (the Baltimore Vinny, that is, not the New York Vinny).

If anything, Banks seems to play more like the old Testaverde, making spectacular plays one moment, bone-headed plays the next. He, too, is a talented enigma. Perhaps it's fitting that he, too, wears No. 12.

Mitchell is understandably rusty playing for the first time since last September. He's trying to master a new offense against first-team defenses. And he performed better in Atlanta than he did in Philadelphia.

"It's going to be an adjustment," Mitchell said yesterday. "Really, the Philadelphia game was the first game I'd played in almost a year. And it felt that way out there. It didn't feel natural. It didn't feel comfortable. About when I started to feel good was when I came out of the game.

"Last week, I felt better. I felt I had a grasp of what we were trying to do. Each week, I just think it will get better."

Billick pointed to the Ravens' 16-play, 83-yard drive for a field goal against Atlanta as testament to Mitchell's progress. Mitchell completed six of nine passes on the drive, including an 18-yard completion to Jermaine Lewis on third-and-16.

"With all due respect -- and I do mean this respectfully -- you all [reporters] don't know what you're talking about," Billick said. "You're looking at a play and saying he's not playing well. I'm watching a guy that ran a 16-play drive.

"Now, that doesn't mean he didn't mess up. But he bailed our butts out of the fire a number of times. And against Philadelphia, [he had] two protection breakdowns and a drop."

So, Billick likes what he sees?

"Yeah, I do," he said. "He's being efficient. He knows how to run the offense. He's not turning the ball over. He hasn't thrown an interception. The handling of the ball, yeah, it's got to get sharper."

Mitchell agreed.

"You've got to get a good sense for the pocket, really be belligerent about protecting the football," he said. "There are a couple of times where I haven't done that. I'm really trying to focus on that this week. You can't turn the ball over."

Correct that problem and improve each week, and no one will say a word. Mitchell cost the Ravens a third-round pick and a conditional fifth, while Banks came for a fifth and a seventh. Mitchell is the starter. Mitchell is playing better in practice. Mitchell deserves a chance.

When would that chance expire?

It's too early to venture a guess.

"I think you've got to give it a whole season, see where you are after a season," Mitchell said.

"You can't do it after a couple of games. It's a long season, 16 games. You have to look at it as an overall picture, not just one or two isolated instances."

But as Mitchell knows, it doesn't always work out that way.

"I just go out, do the best I can, focus on each play, try not to dwell on whether it's good or bad," he said. "Sometimes, you can dwell on positives as much as negatives, and start getting too full of yourself.

"It's a concentration process, a mental process you have to go through, to maintain your focus and get through the season. It's a long grind."

The grind hasn't even started, and Billick already is deflecting questions about his starting quarterback with more candor and skill than presidential candidate George W. Bush displays when asked about his own C word.

There is no controversy.

No sign of Coach Sybil yet.

Pub Date: 8/25/99

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